21 Hours at Munich
MGM // Unrated // $19.94 // December 20, 2005
Review by Scott Weinberg | posted December 5, 2005
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Graphical Version
The Movie

Just over four years after the shocking tragedy at the 1972 Munich Olympics, ABC broadcast their fact-based re-creation of the events. It was called 21 Hours at Munich, and my father informs me that this TV-movie was quite the controversial piece back in late 1976. Scheduled for DVD release just prior to the theatrical release of Steven Spielberg's similarly-themed Munich, 21 Hours at Munich takes the straight & narrow approach. As in: tell the story plainly, with no stops made for new material or pointless additions.

William Holden, miscast, stars as Munich Chief of Police Manfred Schreiber, the head cop who must figure out what to do when a ruthless gang of terrorists take 11 Israeli athletes hostage and demand the release of over 200 political prisoners. Franco Nero is the strangely level-headed leader of "Black September," a brutal terrorist cell hoping to get their message heard on the widest frequency possible: the Olympics.

Told in a respectfully methodical and matter-of-fact fashion, 21 Hours at Munich sure isn't anybody's idea of flashy or reconstructionist history. Indeed much of the film's midsection feels like an unending series of delays, confusion, and bickering. But if that's what that horrible day in 1972 was really like, one has to respect the way in which this TV production was put together.

But there's more than enough natural drama to support even a somewhat dry re-telling. Sadly, we all know precisely how this story ended, but director William Graham and his writers, working from Serge Groussard's "The Blood of Israel," are able to keep the story quietly compelling ... despite the foregone conclusion we all know is coming.

If you're looking for a "shorthand" version of the 1972 Munich tragedy, and you'd rather watch something than read an encyclopedia, I can easily recommend 21 Hours at Munich. Those who look forward to Spielberg's Munich but need to be reminded of the back-story (Spielberg's film takes place after the events of this one) would find this a good place to start.

The DVD

Video: I expected a grungy fullscreen affair, but the film is presented in a rather solid anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) aspect ratio. Pretty nifty treatment for a mid-70's TV-movie, but I assume the flick was shot with international theatrical release in mind.

Audio: It's the original Mono audio track, which is a little bit flat but more than audible enough. Optional subtitles are available in English and French.

Extras: Just a trailer for Hotel Rwanda.

Final Thoughts

For every five or six TV-movies that hope to "cash in" on a tragedy and/or exploit the worldly news, there's maybe one that comes out and aims to simply dramatize the facts with no muss, no fuss, and nothing in the editorial department. I watched 21 Hours to Munich with a careful eye trained for any sort of preachiness or "opinionizing" from either direction, and I was pleased to notice that stuff only by its absence.



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